As Birmingham’s Electric reopens following a protracted period of uncertainty as to whether it was gone for good, it turns to a programme of classics to invigorate its audience. We catch The Apartment there, Billy Wilder’s dark romantic comedy, which Mike has never seen and José not for years, to discuss corporate alienation, whether the suicide story structure works, the cynicism in Wilder’s work and his personal history that it can be seen as a product of, the appeal of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, and the takers, those who get took, and the mensches.
An utterly charming, friendly rom-com set in and amongst the very wealthiest of the Singaporean elite, Crazy Rich Asians is also full of odd tensions and problematic complexities. In one sense a highly specifically Chinese story of a second-generation American immigrant’s return to Asia and the conflict she experiences in negotiating her way into a world that finds her somewhat unwelcome; on the other a genre comedy that would feel no different were the characters all white. It’s a friction that bubbles under everything, but the film is so light and likeable that it never spoils anything.
We find Michelle Yeoh’s performance as the intimidating mother-in-law a delight, her character completely avoiding the one-dimensional dragon mom stereotype. On the other hand, there are stereotypes in which the film does indulge, though we disagree on how critical we should be of that. Thinking back to Searching, Mike feels that that film’s joy of seeing ethnicity have no bearing at all on anything is not replicated here, as the film’s insistence on themes of separation from one’s background and identity come into conflict with its desire to be no different from any generic white rom-com. Jose doesn’t find this an issue, instead sinking into the diasporic aura of the film. We discuss the film’s occasional TV movie feel, its use of music, its depiction of class through accents, and the way the opening sets up a much darker, more subversive film than we get.
And above all, it’s really, really funny.
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